GAO Finds Special Ed Gaps

K-12 Testing

Most states are meeting No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) inclusion requirements, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study. However, states are finding it hard to implement alternate assessments and are looking for more guidance from the federal government to do so.


No Child Left Behind: Most Students with Disabilities Participated in Statewide Assessments, but Inclusion Options Could Be Improved found that in 41 of 49 states providing data, at least 95 percent of students with disabilities took state reading assessments. Most of these students take the regular form of the tests, many with accommodations such as extended time or being tested in smaller groups.


Federal special education law, however, says that states must also offer alternate forms of assessment for the relatively few students who need them to show what they have learned. Alternate assessments can measure either grade-level or below grade-level work and can take the form of a portfolio. In the four states the GAO closely studied, however, officials said they are hampered from offering alternate assessments because they are relatively new and the abilities of students being assessed varies so widely. State officials also complained that learning about alternate assessments and administering them are time-consuming for teachers.


The GAO also looked at the participation rates of disabled students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NCLB requires states to participate in NAEP reading and math assessments in grades four and eight. On average, approximately 5 percent of disabled students have been excluded from NAEP testing nationwide, with state exclusion rates varying from 2 to 10 percent. The rate is thought to significantly influence NAEP results as states with larger exclusion rates score higher than they otherwise would.


The GAO's recommended that federal officials should provide better guidance for designing and administering alternate assessments and that the Secretary of Education should work to reduce exclusion of disabled students from NAEP testing.


- The report is available online at